PULLMAN – One of the first entries following a YouTube search of Eric Morris is a highlight reel of the former Texas Tech receiver.
It is 7 minutes, 57 seconds long, featuring Morris catching passes from his position in the slot, many of them on short routes and screens.
One play in particular, though, seems to embody the new Washington State inside receivers coach’s personality. In a game at Oklahoma in 2008, Morris’ senior season, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound receiver caught a pass over the middle midway through the second quarter, his team trailing 28-0 at the time, and was tackled by Sooners safety Nic Harris.
Harris, who goes about 6-2, 230 pounds, apparently took exception to something Morris said, and jammed his facemask up against Morris’ helmet, towering over him as he voiced his displeasure.
The video shows Morris standing his ground, giving it right back. So it is easy to see why toughness is high on Morris’ list of what he wants from his inside receivers.
“There’s kids that can run, that can jump, that can catch, that can do all kinds of stuff,” Morris said.
“One thing we’ve found in the past that helps us is just being physically tough and mentally tough. We really grill these kids on blocking with this offense. It’s so wide open. How we spring big plays is usually receivers blocking downfield. We’re not big on prima donna kids that want to come in here and talk about how good they were in high school, how many balls they caught, how fast they run the 40. It doesn’t matter.”
It didn’t matter for Wes Welker or Danny Amendola, two household names whose 40 times Morris rattles off – 4.7 and 4.69, respectively – as proof that speed and size don’t define a successful receiver in Mike Leach’s offense.
Morris caught 75 passes as a junior and 74 as a senior, scoring nine touchdowns in each season. He earned the nickname “Elf” from Leach for his size and chip-on-shoulder demeanor.
At age 26, the youngest member of Leach’s fresh-faced staff, Morris is perhaps as qualified as anybody to sell recruits on the virtues of the Air Raid offense.
“My senior year of high school, they had four receivers that had 1,000 yards,” Morris said. “It’s somewhere that you can get a lot of publicity, get your name out there and receivers, at the end of the day, want to catch footballs.”
To aid with that task, Leach employs two receivers coaches, a rarity in college football. Morris is the inside guy while Dennis Simmons coaches outside receivers.
They do this for a couple of reasons. For one, Morris said, the Cougars will be in four-wide sets the majority of the time, and film breakdown is easier when each coach can focus on two receivers at a time instead of having just one coach analyze all four.
“You cover more and you get more accomplished that way,” Morris said.
Also, there’s room for two receivers coaches on the staff because unlike other schools, WSU doesn’t employ a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. Leach handles those duties himself.
Morris said he’ll recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth area – “if we can get three or four kids per year from Texas, I think that’d be pretty good,” he said – as well as the Inland Empire.
He grew up in Shallowater, Texas, a town of about 2,000 where his father coached high school basketball, and said he loves Pullman’s similar small-town feel. CD’s Smoke Pit in Moscow is his favorite Palouse restaurant, although he admits he’s partial to barbecue, given his roots.
He’s blue-collar, through and through, and will ask the same of his charges.
“You have to have something that separates yourself from a guy that can run and catch and make plays and I think the biggest thing is toughness,” Morris said. “Whether they’re going to be tough enough to push through and work on their game, tough enough to outwork people in all aspects.”